Monday, August 3, 2009

How to arrest Famine in Uganda

On Monday 15th June 2009, Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE) in Patnership with Uganda National Council for Science and Technology(UNCST) held a special multstakholder conversation on biotechnology. In attendance were Farmers, Enviromentalists and Scientists. This dialogue presented a classic interface between farmers and other actors along the agriculture value chain. Enviromentalists were furious at advances of Genenetic Modified Organisms (GMO) in Uganda. Scientists were passionate about the future of agriculture in Uganda with biotechnology as a catapult for sustainable agriculture development and food chains. Mr. Arthur Makara of Science Foundation for Development (SCIFODE) argued that humans have used the biological processes of microorganisms since six thousand years ago to make useful food products, such as bread and cheese and to preserve dairy products.Farmers were abit confused on which way to go! Folks, the debate on wether Uganda should go organic or GMO is largely unsettled! In April 2008, the government of Uganda ockeyed a policy on biotechnology and biosafety, however the bill necessary to operationalise it is stalled! Nobody seems to talk about the bill anymore! The country has thus fallen short on its committments to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's Cartagena Protocol to protect biodiversity from any potential harm posed by genetically modified (GM) organisms.This delay of the law, means that the Government of Uganda is still soul searching and trapped in between the advances of terminator seed companies like MOSANTO that have for long advanced GMO agenda and the green arguments of conservative Enviromentalists like Evergreen, organicists like NOGAMU and other civic groups whose stand on GMO’s has been an emphatic no! Organisations like Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) have been largely moderate arguing that once the biosafety law is in place both Organic and GMOs can operate in Uganda. I belong to the latter school of thought. Those in favour of GMOs have argued that Biotechnology will be used to address problems in all areas of agricultural production and processing. This includes plant breeding, to raise and stabilize yield, to improve resistance against pests, disease and abiotic stresses such as drought and cold; and to enhance the nutritional content of food, develop low cost disease free planting materials for crops such as banana, potato and coffee, and creating new tools for the diagnosis and treatment of plant and animal diseases and for the measurement and conservation of bio-resources. To the scientist Biotech helps also to speed up breeding programs for plants, animals and marine resources such as fish. Animal. Biotech is important in animal disease diagnostics and development of animal vaccines against several diseases. When I met 300 farmers for a converstaion in Rukungiri on 26th june 2009 and whose major problem is dwindling land resources for agriculture, I told them that the asnswer lies in spin farming with biotechnology as a catapult. I told farmers to take on enterprises like mushroom farming, poultry, Zero grazing cows and so on. Such enterprises dont need land. Another key challenge raised by farmers in Rukungiri, was unprecedented diseases for crops like coffee, cassava and bananas. The counsel from scientists was adoptation of immunised planting materials and use of seed that are water efficient and resistant to drought. This therefore means that any strategy or action for arresting famine and hunger that is spreading like wild fire in the country must underscore robust investiment in biotechnology and persue scientific agriculuture with in the context of agriculture zoning that allocates areas for GMOs and organic agriculture. The foregoing actions must also be butressed by initiatives that harness water for irrigation and wind for energy to support agroproccessing in rural areas. We neednt mention rural infrastructure installation. After that we can start telling farmers to do farming with a bussiness imperative, link them to bussiness enhancing credit and markets. This is how Uganda will shift from nature based or chance based agriculture systems to more predictable, practicle and susstainable agriculture. Instead of lecturing farmers all the time, I think we need to listen to them in order to practically respond to their needs. Despite the mountain challenges farmers have experienced over the years, they have always been resilient and will soon overcome.

Rwakakamba Morrison
Resident consultant and Manager, Policy Research and Advocacy
Uganda National Farmers Federation

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